Tim Hughes on why Oxford Street is still Europe’s favourite shopping street

It is Europe’s longest high street – one of the great retail destinations on earth and the first port of call for many visitors to the capital. When it comes to shopping, it’s hard to beat Oxford Street.

The beating heart of the West End, this busy thoroughfare is home to 88 flagship stores, with stately establishments like Selfridges and John Lewis rubbing shoulders with boutiques, chain stores, cafes, pubs and hotels.

It comes as no surprise at all to learn that the 1.5 mile-stretch of road between Tottenham Court Road and Marble Arch is home to more international fashion brands than anywhere else in the world and attracts 200 million visits a year. And there is no better time to come than Christmas, when this ‘grande dame’ of shopping streets puts on her festive finery... and sparkles like a diamond.

This year’s lights are a delight. Clusters of decorations are lit up with 1,778 baubles and 750,000 LED bulbs (using 75 per cent less energy than conventional bulbs). It’s staggering sight – and it has soul too. This year’s charity partner is the NSPCC, which is benefitting from funding as supporters pay a fiver to dedicate star-shaped lights to loved ones.

They were switched on by singer Craig David at a street festival, with music from The Vamps and X-Factor winner Louisa Johnson, all stepping into the shoes of previous guests the Spice Girls, Jessie J and Robbie Williams.

Also present was a grinning Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who welcomed shoppers to the heart of “the greatest city on earth”. He was greeted with screams of delight from the thousands of young girls in the crowd – though, alas, the noise was not for Sadiq, but those Vamps lads

The screaming girls have been replaced by shoppers as the festive season kicks in, but there’s a palpable sense of excitement. Despite prophesies of economic doom, Oxford Street is as busy as ever. If we are supposed to be battening down the hatches, observing austerity and clutching onto our Brexit-devalued pounds, the memo doesn’t seem to have got through to W1.

London – and especially Oxford Street – are very much open for business. A retail powerhouse, the West End generates annual sales of £8.5bn, with Oxford Street accounting for £5bn.

The lights themselves are matched, if not eclipsed, by the store window displays. A year of planning goes into these creations, with the best coming from Selfridges, with a tableau of scenes depicting a glitzy Father Christmas travelling away for a skiing trip, accompanied by his beautiful assistants. There he is boarding a plane, on a chair lift, enjoying some apres ski and, of course, in the sauna. Well, he is from Lapland, after all.

If, like me, a packed day of shopping is a thing to be endured rather than enjoyed, escape is easy. Neighbouring Mayfair, Marylebone, Soho and Fitzrovia have great old fashioned pubs, many just off Oxford Street; perfect watering holes in which to fortify, refuel and ready oneself for the fray of bargain-hunting.

And food shouldn’t be limited to fast food joints. Along with fabulous dining at the big department stores, you can ‘eat the world’ just off the street, with everything from Italian, Indian and Thai, to good honest pub food and traditional afternoon teas.

For Oxford shoppers, Oxford Street is an obvious destination. Our Oxford Tube and X90 whizz passengers from the city right to Marble Arch – perfect for the big shops: Selfridges, John Lewis and M&S – and pick them up, laden down with bags, later the day.

Rail passengers using the new Oxford Parkway are also perfectly placed, with Marylebone Station just a pleasant walk or short bus or cab journey away. A trip to the glittering West End brings out the child in us all. And why not? Embrace the fun of Christmas – and make shopping fun again.

The details:

Get there: Oxford Tube or X90 coach from Oxford city centre or Thornhill Park-and-Ride, or train from Oxford Parkway to Marylebone.

Shop: Friends and family can indulge in a shopping trip to all their favourite stores with the OXST Gift Card. The card can hold from £10 to £5,000 and is accepted in all OXST stores. It is available to purchase online only, and will be despatched the next day (when ordered before 11am), or can be pre-ordered by nominating a delivery date in advance.

Go here for more details...

Stay: Nothing beats the buzz of staying over in the heart of the West End.

Overlooking Marble Arch and Hyde Park, the Amba Hotel owes everything to its enviable location. A relatively new arrival, with 700 bright, modern rooms, it is the perfect destination for shoppers and sightseers; an oasis of serenity at the top of Europe’s favourite high street.

The family rooms and studio apartments are perfect for those with children, who don’t necessarily fancy turning the lights out early. Staff are happy to add extra beds too.

Attention to detail is everything, with iPads and superfast wi-fi, smart TVs, espresso machines, luxurious baths and rainfall shower and full-sized, high-end toiletries. Studio apartments come with a kitchen – complete with microwave and fridge.

There’s a gym, a restaurant (with an eye-popping international breakfast buffet), and, best of all, an executive lounge, with a rolling menu of delights, and a free bar. Were the delights of Oxford Street not outside the door, you wouldn’t want to leave.

Contact amba-hotel.com for more details and offers

Eat: On Duke Street, just off Oxford Street, is a branch of Spaghetti House. This family-run London institution offers a taste of Italy, in the shadow of a glorious Catholic church.

Food is faithfully traditional. Start with antipasti (caprese is a winner at £6) before digging into a comforting plate of fresh pasta.

Panciotti In Guazzetto – with scallops, crab and prawns (£14.95) is a winner, as are the stone-baked pizzas, which at £11 for a large are great value.

Go to spaghettihouse.co.uk